So, two weeks ago The Daily Show aired its last episode after 16 years. As I watched the finale, it struck me just how innovative the show was for its time – a show that lampooned not only politics but also the people covering politics.
Then, just this last weekend, as I listened to the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I remembered what a breakthrough it was for its time. Even then, in its first review, Time Magazine called it “a historic departure in the progress of music.”
This is how innovation happens in the world of art and media: Someone pushes things in a new, quite unexpected direction, and the form is forever changed. Think of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings or Apple’s 2007 reinvention of the mobile telephone.
What does innovation look like in the world of content and marketing?
Let’s start with what it does not look like. Innovation does not look like churning out the same old things. We content professionals can fall into a rut following best practices – proven ways of creating experiences that benefit both the sender and the receiver. Nothing wrong with doing that. It’s just not innovation.
Consider the content types that many of us create: e-books, videos, white papers. We do what we do without a second thought, repeating what has worked before. Sure, we may create a better e-book. We may spiff up our videos. We may write our best white paper ever. But efforts like that don’t qualify as innovative. (Why are white papers still called white papers anyhow? The term originated with the British government and consisted of policy and public-record documents. These days, we think of a white paper as any “thought leadership” piece longer than a blog post. Oh, and it has to be a PDF.)
How do we innovate in the world of content? We rethink content quality, yes. We rethink content strategy, of course. But we can also rethink and push the boundaries of the form – the content containers – themselves.
Couple of examples. Just this week, I saw a wonderfully innovative use of Instagram targeted at smartphone users – Mercedes Benz used hundreds of photos to create a timeline of side-scrolling composite images that tell the history of the Mercedes brand. And I love this pair of instructional manuals (can you even call them manuals?) for a Samsung phone.
What’s out there next, waiting to be reimagined? One of the larger technological breakthroughs of the last few years has been the relative ease with which digital content can flow across channels and be optimized across interfaces. It’s easy to repurpose content for new interfaces. What’s hard is reimagining the interfaces themselves. For example, consider the way card-based interfaces have changed our experience of the web.
Or, finally, consider live video services like Meerkat and Periscope. Someone, or perhaps some brand (or both) may use these services, not just to change the way we think of broadcasting, but perhaps of what an audience really is.
This is our job. Content strategists and marketers need to push interfaces beyond their traditional boundaries. (How quickly yesterday’s “innovative” becomes today’s “traditional.”) We need to imagine ways to hack content-driven experiences.
I leave you with a quotation that I was reminded of this week when a friend – a content strategist at one of the largest companies on the planet – gave a presentation to the leaders of his enterprise on the future of content and their business. He knows that the biggest obstacle to the innovation they need is not technical. It’s cultural. His first slide quotes Charles Kettering, one of the most innovative businesspeople in history: “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.”
If you have always done it that way, it’s time to get hacking.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.
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